Whether you find yourself strapped for cash from eating out of burger bags every night, or you simply feel like you could trim some fat from your budget when it comes to stocking your pantry, there’s a good chance you are are not as efficient with your meal spending as you can be.
With that aim in mind, here are seven grocery shopping and meal planning strategies to help you keep your belly and your wallet full.
Before heading out to your local grocer, make a list of meals you plan on making over the course of the week and the ingredients you will need to make them happen. Not only will this minimize any last minute trips to the store during prep time, but you will be able to better keep your cart from wandering into aisles with less than budget friendly items. If you’re having trouble finding cost effective dinner plans, a quick online search should put you on the right track, or you can check out All Recipe’s page for eating on a budget.
Avoid high processed foods and brand names
One of the biggest markups you’re going to incur when you file through the checkout lane is on brand name products and packaged goods. Instead, load up on whole foods that you plan to eat that week. If you absolutely need some dry goods or potato chips, buy generic brands. Making a concerted effort to avoid as many boxed and bagged products as you can will ensure your money is going to the stuff you plan on eating rather than the recyclables containing them.
Invest in home cooking supplies
If you’re new to prepping your own meals, or used to the particular flavors you enjoy when dining out, the best advice to sticking with a cost-conscious meal plan is to invest money in your culinary endeavors. While it may seem counter intuitive, the cash you put in up front in purchasing new cookware—like a crock pot—can save you both time and money.
Shop seasonally and regionally
Bottom line: fruits, veggies, and even proteins cost less when they aren’t shipped from Guadalajara half the year (unless you live in Guadalajara, of course). While purchasing imported food is a necessity in some cases, most of the time you can plan your meals around the domestic growing season. This seasonal guide from the USDA can provide you with a quick reference for what produce is in season at any given time. One surefire way to shop in season and avoid shipping markup is to pick up your produce at a local farmer’s market.
Cutback on meat
While a great source of protein, meat is generally not the best bang for your buck. Between the cost of raising the animal, to shipping the end product as refrigerated cargo, a lot of time, energy, and money goes into those pork chops and flank steaks. As a result, the frontend cost of beef, poultry, pork, and fish gets passed onto you. While you don’t have go vegetarian, it’s in your grocery budget’s best interest incorporate more greens into your diet throughout most of the week.
Befriend your butcher and baker
Getting friendly with the woman or man behind the counter can have a lot of fringe benefits. For one, talking to your butchers can help in winnowing down the exact cut of meat you might want for a particular dish, and they will even help in preparing and tenderizing the meat if you ask. Similarly, talking to the bakery attendants can score you discounts on older loaves, and the people at the deli counter can generally provide you with cheaper cheese and cold cuts than the prepackaged stuff in the refrigerated aisle. On top of all that, couldn’t you use some new friends anyway?
Cook in bulk for longevity and variety
Finally, when you are cooking your meals, make a lot and freeze your leftovers. Life comes at you fast, and you may not have time during the week to set aside for making a dish from scratch. When you do have that time, make enough food to last you for a few days and store whatever you have leftover. While the shelf life of any food is finite, that veggie lasagna or curried chicken will keep for an extra month if you put it on ice. The added benefit to this is that you can stockpile a variety of cuisines to mix up your choices during your lunch hour.
Even if you eat at home majority of the time, cutting out restaurants completely probably isn’t possible. Most restaurants post their menu on their website, so when you do plan to go out, do your research before you go and commit to a budget. This will help with ordering last minute appetizers or desserts when with friends. Most dishes are larger than one serving size, so be sure to take the leftovers home for a second meal. If it’s a close friend or family member, sharing meals is also great way save. By planning your night out, you can still have a yummy meal and stay within budget.